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Surprise visit to Louisiana post Katrina
(Click on the images for a larger version.)
katrina Mag
The last time Ilaria and I booked a flight to my folk's place, our plans were thwarted by one of the great natural disasters and most embarassing relief efforts in American history.

Deaths from Katrina: 1836
Deaths so far from Iraq: 2942
Budget (so far) to repair Katrina:$120 billion
Budget (so far) to destroy Iraq: $350 billion
Weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq: 0
Weapons of mass destruction found in Katrina: 5 [I. a big hurricane, II. a bigger flood, III. small levees, IV. George Bush's indecision, V. FEMA]
Strategy in Iraq:who knows?
Strategy in Katrina relief:who knows? who even realizes Katrina is still a big problem?
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The hurricane didn't completely destroy my folk's house,
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and they inherited a new broken boat.
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But clearly, having stagnant water chest high in a house for 1 week or so
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necessitated my parents finding a new temporary housing (they rented a place). For Ilaria and I, it left us each with a plane voucher to try again to visit my parents (wherever they were living).
katrina Forgotten
And while for the rest of the world Katrina faded into memory, Ilaria and I found out first hand that Katrina is still very much alive in Louisiana.
louisiana Katrina 1
Ilaria and I planned to surprise my mom by showing up at her place (the now kinda repaired, at least habitable house) for my birthday (April 1). We worked it out with my dad to pick us up at the airport (which had more empty terminals than any airport I've seen in my entire life).

This trip turned out to be quite a learning experience for Ilaria and I.
louisiana Katrina 2
While we drove from the airport to my folk's house, my dad explained how things were much better than they used to be. Now for example most of the abandoned cars had been towed away or towed into big open spaces like this, whereas they used to completely line the sides of the roads.
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There weren't too many places open for business,
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just the occasional hotel that hastily fixed things up to house the relief workers flowing in and out of town.
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The only other time in my life
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I've experienced destruction like this
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was when I went to Sarajevo
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just after their war.
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But that was human induced destruction. All of this happened in the course of a few days of bad weather.
slidell Katrina 1
My parents live in a pretty nice neighborhood off Lake Ponchartrain,
slidell Katrina 2
which flooded
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and caused most of this damage.
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There was hardly any place open for business. Some of our favorite restaurants from previous trips didn't even have a recognizable building structure.
slidell Katrina 5
Despite having seven months to sort stuff out, things in every town were still a mess. Insurance claims are slow, FEMA is slow, building supplies and contractors are hard to come by, and many people just abandoned their mess and moved.
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I learned on this trip
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never to build your house
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on wooden supports in the water, it just can't take a big storm.
slidell Katrina 9
One thing I liked about all the devastation was how boats could be found everywhere.
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slidell Katrina 11
slidell Katrina 12
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There was some rebuilding amongst all this destruction.
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But I'd say that rebuilders were in the minority.
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Most people just had a FEMA trailer outside what used to be their house, as they waited for contractors and insurance people to help them sort out their lives.
NYC NO  050041
This beautiful view from my parent's backyard taken on our previous trip,
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was still beautiful post-Katrina, even if composed to not allow Katrina memories to fade.
lsu Clock Tower
Ilaria and I took a trip to Louisiana's new largest city, Baton Rouge (because New Orleans population shrunk with many of the hurricane victims moving to Baton Rouge). We went to LSU, my old college stomping grounds.
lsu Music School
I spent many hours playing music in this building, but now it's being renovated (it needed it; it was really old inside).
lsu campus
LSU has a beautiful campus,
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but for some reason, places like this that used to feel larger-than-life to me,
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now feel a lot smaller.
highland coffee
I showed Ilaria my favorite coffee place before we left. They roast their own coffee and I used to smell this when I walked home from school. memories...
new orleans 1
We went to downtown New Orleans with my parents the next day.
new orleans katrina
Downtown is pretty bad in some parts,
french quarter
but the french quarter
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cafe du monde
just fine.
orange paint Katrina
These orange spray paint marks are everywhere the hurricane hit (including my parents garage door). They mark the date the damage assessment team inspected the house and the number of dead bodies found inside.
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Although the damage in the tourist areas was minimal, the damage to the tourist industry was incredible. These formerly crowded streets have become pretty empty.
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And many of the restaurants and shops still hadn't reopened.
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On our way back home, we passed by what was the center of attention during much of the Katrina news coverage.
superdome Katrina 1
This damaged superdome was the flooding, filthy,
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and sometimes dangerous home to people who were
superdome Katrina 3
stranded by the hurricane and flooding.
NYC NO  050157
Although New Orleans and Louisiana were the most talked about victims of the hurricane, the people of Mississippi actually had the worst part of the storm.

This is our previous trip to the Mississippi coast.
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And here's
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what it
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looks like
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Some rebuilding,
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some curious pieces of houses that somehow survived,
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But mostly
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just destruction
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and sour reminders
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of what were once
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some of the finest homes in Mississippi.
NYC NO  050157
As for this dock that once provided nice views of these homes and the beautiful Mississippi coastline,
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it didn't fair so well either.
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Neither for that matter did any of the other docks make it.
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But those who survived, learned how transient the stuff we collect in life can be.
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And although their prime real estate is now their personal camp ground, I believe the people also learned about the value of community. Without TVs, xboxes, internet, or sometimes even a roof, people relearned the value of community that was so prominent in human society in previous eras.

(this is of course only a transient phase, because once people do get their FEMA and insurance money, they'll upgrade to HDTVs, xbox360, high-speed internet and go back to the modern society, voluntary seclusion that the rest of us enjoy)
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Eventually, it was time for Ilaria and I to leave all this destruction,
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but hopefully with this experience we won't forget that Katrina victims are still struggling, that most of the big problems Katrina revealed (inefficient disaster management, corruption, whether to allow people to live in flood plains, and how to prevent flooding in the future) are still unsolved, and finally, that we live in the same country as the Katrina victims, this is really our problem too, and it should not become a memory until it is finished being a reality.
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Finally, I leave you with a small curiosity we saw on our way to the airport.

Now over these days, we saw a lot of broken stuff,
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but how in the hell does a hurricane or a flood chop a van in half?